This week I’m going back into the world of miniatures painting. There’s just something special about having painted minis on the game table. They bring a game to life! I spoke with Mackenzie Hoffman about her work and how she got into painting miniatures.
Blog: The Meeple Street
“Following [The Meeple Street] means you will get reviews on both new and old games; be able to participate in discussions and share stories about gaming; hear more about my experiences with gaming; and you can enjoy watching my follies (and hopefully development) in painting miniatures.”
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Read on to discover her favorite project, paints, and tools, as well as read her advice for folks new to the minis painting hobby:
To Play Is Human: Did gaming or painting come first for you? How did you get started?
Mackenzie Hoffman: Painting and art in general has always been an important aspect of my life. While growing up, I would spend endless hours drawing, painting or sculpting pieces. I especially loved painting portraits and painting cartoon type characters. I ran an Esty store for a short time selling Pokémon paintings. Art consumed most of my time, both in school and out of school. When I went to college, I started to not have as much time to paint on canvas or work in traditional art forms.
It was just a little after that point when I got into gaming by playing Zombicide. It took me about six months after that to start painting miniatures. I think I hesitated at first, because I was not used to painting small intricate detail on anything, and I was nervous to mess up my games. However, once I started painting my miniatures I realized just how wonderful board gaming could be for me. It gave me a way back into the art world, in a less time consuming and space consuming way. An oil painting would have taken me weeks to months to complete, and most miniatures I am able to finish in just a day or two.
The first game I painted was Zombicide. I painted all three seasons of the original Zombicide before moving onto any other games. I am really lucky that I did start with Zombicide. The vast number of miniatures and the simplicity of detail gave me something to practice on. I started with the zombies, which was great because it repeated the same techniques over and over again. I then moved onto the heroes once I felt confident in my abilities. The whole process took about three months, give or take.
TPIH: What has been your favorite piece to paint so far and why?
Mackenzie: It is really difficult for me to pick just one favorite piece that I have painted honestly. I think I could narrow it down to a top three though. Those three would be the Beholder from the Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures Line, Death from The Others: Seven Sins, and the Underlord from Arcadia Quest Inferno.
The beholder from WizKids was really surprising to me. It was extremely fun and fast to paint, plus the model only cost me about $5 (USD), so I was able to get multiple to try. When I say fast, I mean under two hours to paint. I think from start to finish I painted this beholder in about a hour and a half. This was possible because it came pre-primed, and the miniature had a lot of texture that lent itself well to dry brushing. I adore playing Dungeons & Dragons so having miniatures that I painted really allows me to connect further with the game. I am hoping to pick up a few more of these to paint and give away on my blog, The Meeple Street, in the next couple of weeks, as an excuse to paint even more of them.
Death was fun to paint because it challenged me to develop a darker and more detailed style. The Others was really the first game I painted after Zombicide, so the more detailed miniatures forced me to learn new skills. Death surprised me with how well it came out. I was happy that I was finally developing better control over using inks and shades. I also did a much better job on it with highlighting than I had done in prior miniatures.
The Underlord was another miniature that I just had fun painting quickly. He took me about two hours to complete, but also helped me work to develop new skills. Before Arcadia Quest Inferno I had never worked with reds in depth but working with red skin tone helped me develop ways to highlight and shadow reds in a way I had not done before. Plus, this figure also pushed me to try reflective light, which I had never done before. I really enjoy painting chibi figures, so to have one that was large and gave me a lot of space to work was really enjoyable.
In general, I really enjoy miniatures that help me develop new skills or allow me to experiment with new paints or textures.
TPIH: I love that Beholder! The colors are great. I have definitely heard that painting with reds is a skill of its own, particularly skin tones and blood.
Are there any tutorials or specific painters out there that helped you as you learned new techniques or did you explore those on your own?
Mackenzie: When I first started painting I watched a lot of Sorasto on YouTube. It helped me get the basics of miniature painting. After watching a few of his videos, I have spent the rest of my painting just exploring on my own. I’m hoping to be able to attend some painting courses at one of the upcoming conventions because I am still working on blending and highlighting.
You can see in this picture two almost identical miniatures [Scythe miniature for Anna & Wojtek (Polania Republic)]. In the picture on the left, I was focusing on making the bear more realistic, with a more lifelike face and highlights. While I am constantly making small improvements, I think taking some more painting classes could really benefit me. However, it can be hard to get into those events especially at larger conventions. Until then it seems like I will continue to experiment and gain skills gradually through mistakes and successes.
TPIH: Where do you paint? How do you get into the creative mode?
Mackenzie: Painting for me is my escape from reality. When I paint, a lot of times it is because I am overwhelmed with social interaction or want some quiet time away from others. My painting set up reflects that sentiment. My painting “room” is actually just a closet in a quiet space in my house. It has an outside facing window, which is especially nice because I like having natural light to paint. Other than that, it is pretty basic, only having a desk and a small paint organizer in it.
My painting room is also chaotic. Some people are very neat when they paint and keep everything very organized and tidy…I am not one of those people. I tend to get into a zone when painting, and not really pay attention to where things end up. My space tends to become somewhat cluttered, and I generally clean it up between games that I paint. It does not bother me to have the clutter, because I know where everything is. Often times beneath my desk, I will also have my cat Bubz curled up around my feet, hoping that I drop a miniature he can steal.
For me, getting into the creative mode is fairly simple. Most of the time when I get home from work I am looking for some quiet time alone, and will spend a hour or two painting before going about my usual daily chores. On weekends, when I wake up most mornings I will immediately paint for a little before getting on with my day. That time helps me process and plan and is a form of relaxation for me. The biggest struggle I have is controlling my creative urges and focusing on one game at a time. When I get excited about something I can become sidetracked easily. For instance, I am currently working on Stuffed Fables, finishing my Scythe faction leaders and Blood Rage. That lack of focus means it can be difficult for me to finish projects in a timely manner.
TPIH: Haha, my craft space is also cluttered when I’m working on a project. I like to have my supplies and tools out because it turns my creative brain on. If everything is perfectly put away, then I don’t think about making things as much as when things are out in sight. My kitties love to be around me when I’m crafting, but they mostly like to get into everything, haha. Also… I looove that cart! A co-worker of mine at the library has one and I’ve been wanting one for the last year.
What are some of your favorite paints and tools to use?
Mackenzie: I tend to use a hodgepodge of paints, but my favorite brand for most paints is Reaper Master Series. The exception to this rule is when I’m working with metallics or textured paints, in those cases I like using Citadel. I’m not sure if it is odd to have an all-time favorite color, but mine would be Reaper’s Ruddy Leather. It is just a lovely warm shade of brown that I find very pleasing to paint.
As far as tools go my two lifesavers are my Windsor Series 7 brushes and my Hobby Holder. Series 7 brushes have actually saved me a lot of money because they hold their shape exceptionally well. That helps me get the detail I need, especially when working on things like eyes. My Hobby Holder also helps me steady my hand to paint details like eyes and small highlights. As a bonus it also has helped me get less paint on my hands.
TPIH: What advice would you give to someone new to the mini painting hobby?
Mackenzie: My biggest advice would be to not let fear of messing up miniatures stop you from painting them. Find some YouTube tutorials, look at paint jobs you like, and maybe get some miniatures to practice on before moving onto your favorite game. However, find practice models you are actually excited to paint. It will be a motivator to sit down and paint them, and you will be more likely to keep going at it. Worst case scenario, you can strip the miniature of paint with Simple Green, a household cleaner you can get at most stores. It won’t damage the miniature, so no harm done. It is very difficult to make permanent mistakes with miniatures, because there is always the option of stripping them. I have stripped more than a couple miniatures for a variety of reasons, including fuzzy primer, too thick of paint, or even trying to do the eyes too many times. The more you experiment and practice the better you will become!
TPIH: Wonderful advice! Practice is certainly a key factor – skill will develop over time and it is okay to make mistakes. (By the way, you can see more advice from Mackenzie for first time painters here.) Thank you so much for talking with me about your painting, Mackenzie! I look forward to seeing more projects from you.
I asked Mackenzie what her current favorites are in the following categories:
Recently played game: Spirit Island
Mechanic: Engine Building/ Worker Placement
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Illustrator and/or Sculptor: Ryan Laukat
And that’s a wrap! If you have questions or comments for Mackenzie, you can leave them below or connect with her on: The Meeple Street | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | BGG
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Do you have a tabletop gaming project that you’ve created? Contact me with some information and photos. No project is too big/small — as long as you made it yourself and you use it when you game, it is eligible for submission! I would love to see projects for board game upgrades and accessories, RPGs, miniatures (I would love to see mini paint jobs!), terrain, dice towers, custom playmats, custom dice, or anything else you have made.